A controversial gas extraction process blamed for causing small earthquakes in Lancashire could be used in Aylesbury Vale – potentially derailing the HS2 plans (writes Andrew Kay).
Land between Aylesbury and Winslow has been earmarked as a potential shale gas reserve – which means gas could be released from rocks using tiny explosions in a process known as ‘fracking’.
The Vale is currently under consultation as a potential ‘onshore’ gas site to be licenced.
The government is expected to reveal within 18 months if firms will be allowed to carry out exploratory work here.
Drilling was halted near Blackpool last year over earthquake safety fears.
A government review has since given it the green light to resume - claiming fracking will reduce energy bills, create jobs and the risks can be managed.
Fracking could not begin until local councils have given permission. Operations are likely to be located near the planned HS2 Claydon maintenance depot, 300,000 tonne waste incinerator by Calvert and beside the Vale stretch of the new East-West Rail line.
The Bucks Herald understands that landowners in the area have been approached by energy firms to discuss the possibility.
Steven Adams, Bucks County Council’s cabinet member for the environment, said the country needs to diversify its power sources to bring down energy bills and he would support the plans if they were ‘appropriate for the area’.
Environmental consultant and lecturer Paul Hobbs spoke at a recent debate on the subject of fracking in Aylesbury’s Oculus, where he criticised the media for wrongly focusing on the ‘earthquake issue’.
Mr Hobbs told The Bucks Herald that residents across the Vale should oppose it for two reasons - firstly because fracking can cost £1 million a day and as a result the falls in energy prices across the US have ‘not been that significant and prices are creeping back up’.
Also, on the grounds of landscape damage - claiming the Vale can expect ‘disruption with trenches, holes every quarter to half-a-mile, large pipes laid overground, lorry movements and hedgerows being dug up’.
Mr Hobbs, of Banbury, believes the government should instead asses Britain’s long term energy needs, saying: “In 30 or 40 years it’s gone and then what?”
The Oculus debate was organised by the Save Aylesbury Vale Environment group. Secretary Robert Smart says he remains ‘open minded’ about the ups and downs of fracking – which he says could have a ‘considerable’ impact on the economy and the environment.
He said: “We do understand the potential to provide some local employment and there would be new investment in the Vale that could be considerable. Obviously that may lead to the development of local expertise and jobs and any wealth resulting from that activity could be spent in the local economy.
“We also acknowledge that fracking may be a mid term staging point in the transition of the UK’s oil-based economy to a lower carbon future. Fracking may have a small part to play in that transition.”
When asked if fracking in the Vale would disrupt plans for a high speed train line (which will pass through Buckinghamshire without stopping), a spokesman for HS2 Ltd said the issue ‘had not impacted on work so far’.
Anti-HS2 activitist Rae Sloan, who lives just outside Calvert, said: “The question was asked about 18 months ago about whether it could stop HS2 and like most things, in my view, they hadn’t really thought about it.”
She said the fracking possibility could be a ‘nightmare for the area’.
Stop HS2 treasurer Roger Waller, of Dunsmore, near Wendover, said: “I think it could cause some trouble.
“I think it is possible that it could affect plans for the line.”
> To read the government’s announcement that fracking operations can resume click here